A WORRYING TREND: TEENAGE PREGNANCIES ON THE RISE
UN Population Fund says one in every five teenage girls between 15-19 years have either had a live birth or are pregnant
Sixteen-year-old Janet Chebet from Turbo sub-county in Uasin Gishu is already a mother. She was forced to drop out of class 8 at a local primary school in the area and did not even sit for her KCPE exams last year.
“My teacher asked me to be his friend and after some time I got pregnant. I now have a baby and would have wished to go back to class but I have to stay home and take care of my baby”, she says.
Chebet says she can not repeat class eight in the same locality due to embarrassment and has become the laughing stock of her former school mates and age mates in the area.
She is just one among thousands of girls in the Rift Valley region which is recording an alarmingly high number of teen pregnancies. This has led to an equally high dropout rate of girls from schools in the region.
Parents, teachers and education stakeholders are worried that with the long holidays this year, the problem may worsen next year thus affecting girl-child education in the region where the girls still face many other challenges including female genital mutilation, early marriages, defilement and other harmful cultural practices.
Schools in Uasin Gishu, Nandi, Trans Nzoia and Elgeyo Marakwet have in the last two years recorded high dropout rates with Uasin Gishu standing out the most affected.
Records from government offices in the region indicate that at least 400 girls have dropped out of schools in the county due to pregnancies in the last three years with Turbo sub-county worst affected.
Chebet is among 22 girls aged between 14 and 16 years had dropped out of Chepsaita, Osorongai, St Peters Soin and Boinet primary and secondary schools in Turbo Sub County. Uasin Gishu Deputy Governor Daniel Chemno says many more cases have been reported in the region.
“We have invested heavily in the education sector including giving bursaries to support our students and we are totally against anything that may particularly affect girl childe education”, said Uasin Gishu governor Jackson Mandago.
“The problem of early pregnancies for school girls is very serious and we have to tackle it if we are to ensure that our girls pursue education to highest level possible”, said Chemno. He has been pushing to have 22 men responsible for the pregnancies in Turbo brought to justice but he regrets that the cases have taken too long in various courts yet the young girls have already bore the consequences by giving birth and dropping out of schools turning them into young mothers with a bleak future as they have no means to earn a living.
Many of the suspects charged before the courts in Eldoret have denied offenses including defilement, having carnal knowledge with minors and impregnating school girls. Police argue that the cases have to follow due process just like other crimes hence the delays.
Uasin Gishu County Commissioner Abdi Hassan says the pregnancies among school girls are also very high in slum areas of Eldoret town and other centers largely due to rampant abuse of drugs and alcohol among youth.
“As a society we have to go deeper and look into the problem of teen pregnancies, defilement of young girls and the high drop out rates of girls,” says Hassan.
Teachers, boda boda operators, drivers, touts and idle youth are being blamed for the pregnancies and Chemno says regardless of who they are, the law should not spare anyone involved in impregnating schools girls.
Chairman of the Muslim Preachers and Imams in Rift Valley Abubakar Bini along with Bishop Cornelius Korir of the Catholic Church in Eldoret argue that society has lost its morals to the extend that adults fail to take care children or school girls in uniform when they come across them.
“Apart from the pregnancies we have very many cases of abortion among the young girls and as a church and parents, we must devise ways to take of the girls through good parenting, guiding and counseling”, said Bishop Korir.
He says parents have become too busy leaving the responsibility of guiding the youth to second parties like teachers, peers, internet and strangers.
The Catholic Church has insisted that it will not accept to have sex education introduced in schools yet some stakeholders argue that such education would be vital in creating awareness among youth on the dangers of engaging in premature sex activities.
Korir says having sex education in schools amounts to selling human
FOUR CASES OF DEFILEMENT ARE RECORDED IN KITALE TOWN EVERY WEEK AND RECORDS INDICATE THAT MANY OF THE CASES END UP IN PREGNANCIES
dignity and misleading the youth.
He adds that parents must be allowed to continue playing the role of guiding school children on morality and discipline.
“Now we have the long holidays and parents should take extra care especially for the girls because unless they do so, we are likely to record high incidences of pregnancies who may then be forced to drop out of schools next year”, said Bini.
In the same county, twenty girls dropped out of Songoliet Mixed Day secondary school due to pregnancies and the school principal Sypro Kizito says the girls were impregnated mostly by boda boda operators in the area.
Kizito wants leaders and the community in the area to help put up boarding facilities for girls so that they can live within the school compound.
“As a teacher I have noted that we are overexposing our girls to strangers while they are away from schools and home. These incidences can be reduced by having many boarding schools for girls”, she says.
She says while on transit to and from the day schools, many girls come into contact with boda boda operators and matatu touts who in many cases mislead the young girls causing them to engage in premature sex.
National Parents Association chairman Nicholas Maiyo says they will discuss the issue with the government and other stakeholders in the education sector.
“Our focus should be on having our education system more child centered and this means that both girls and boys must be looked at equally in terms of issues that may affect their progress”, said Maiyo. He said they will collect national data from schools and other details on the pregnancies to help develop interventions.
Out of the 22 men facing charges for impregnating girls in Turbo area, eight of them are untrained teachers with many more cases involving such teachers have been reported across the region. Chemno says that even though the country faces a shortage of teachers, schools should not be allowed to hire untrained teachers because they have not gone through the necessary training to be able to handle school girls while on duty.
It’s estimated that Trans Nzoia has more than 150 girls dropping out of schools last year due to pregnancies.
Four months ago, the government ordered officials at Moi Girls Kapsowar High School to re-admit eight pregnant girls who had been expelled and barred from registering to sit for this year’s KCSE exams.
Elgeyo Marakwet County Director of Education Sabina Aroni directed Principal Dinah Cheruiyot to ensure the girls are registered and says schools should look into ways of helping such girls continue with their education by resuming school in different locations to avoid stigmatisation.
Chemno was also pushing to have the girls in Turbo area re-admitted to schools after giving birth.
“The girls must be given a second chance to get an education and as stakeholders we have to strongly support their rehabilitation while ensuring that justice is served on those responsible for ruining the lives of the young girls”, said Chemno.
But Hassan regrets that many such cases of pregnancies or defilement of young girls are handled through =kangaroo courts within communities where the perpetrators end up free while the young girls and their parents are left to bear the burden for the rest of their lives.
He says the Children’s Act and other legal provisions do allow such means of handling these criminal cases through local channels but this only helps to increase the rate of such pregnancies because perpetrators remain roaming the villages.
“We can not allow such serious criminal acts to be handled in kangaroo courts when there are clear legal provisions to deal with those involved”, says Hassan adding that parents or officers found condoning such kangaroo courts should be arrested and prosecuted along with the men responsible for the pregnancies.
Chairperson of the Anti-FGM board Linah Kilimo is a member of a committee planning the launch of a major campaign against early marriages countrywide. She says many girls fall pregnant while still in school and are forced to drop out due to early marriages and more often get exposed to many health risks like fistula.
All stakeholders agree that if the problem is not dealt with, villages across the country will be full of illiterate teenage mothers, a situation which would be a reverse of efforts to improve the standards of education and healthcare for all Kenyans.
Anti FGM board Chair Linah Jebii Kilimo dances with Pokot girls as 96 of them rescued from FGM and early marriages graduated at St. Elizabeth Girls Centre in Ortum, West Pokot on Sep tember 19